LOS ANGELES – When Daniel Kwan was accepting one of the many awards for “Everything Everywhere All at Once” at Sunday night’s Academy Awards, he took a moment to assure his young son that what was happening was, to be sure, odd.
“This is not normal,” said Kwan, who directed the film with his creative partner, Daniel Scheinert. “This is kind of crazy.”
“Not normal” and “kind of crazy” are, increasingly, reasonable ways to describe Oscar best picture winners. Three years ago, Bong Joon Ho’s “Parasite,” a masterful Korean genre movie and class satire, became the first non-English language film to win Hollywood’s top prize. Last year, “CODA,” a modest and heartwarming indie drama released in August, took best picture, making history for the deaf community.
If those films set out with little expectation of Oscar glory, the googly-eye-paved road for “Everything Everywhere All at Once” was even more unlikely. It’s not a hard and fast rule, but, historically speaking, movies with butt plug fights and hot dog fingers don’t win Oscars. They certainly don’t win seven of them.
As a story about family and immigrant life, “Everything Everywhere All at Once” may be just as sentimental and old-fashioned, at heart, as plenty of Oscar winners before it. But it might be — and proudly so — the weirdest best-picture winner in the 95-year history of the Academy Awards. It’s a long ways from “Patton,” at least.
There was much to reflect on what has and hasn’t changed in movies since that 1971 best picture winner during a ceremony that opened with Navy fighter jets flying overhead and saw best supporting actor winner Ke Huy Quan, whose family fled Vietnam as war refugees, emotionally speak about the surrealism of the American dream.
“Everything Everywhere All at Once,” for which Michelle Yeoh became the first Asian best actress winner, is unquestionably an Asian American milestone. But for many reasons it’s a distinctly un-Oscar-like movie that, like “CODA” and “Parasite,” never — in any multiverse — expected any of this.
“It feels like we’re in our movie sometimes,” Scheinert said in an interview ahead of the Oscars. “At some point we’re going to get pulled out of this joke and be back to our own lives and be like, ‘Oh, wouldn’t that be cool? Too bad.’”
Yet it was striking just how resoundingly the blissfully bonkers “Everything Everywhere All at Once” trounced the competition. With acting wins for Yeoh, Quan and Jamie Lee Curtis, it’s just the third film to win three acting Oscars, along with “A Streetcar Named Desire” and “Network.” No film has ever won more “above the line” Academy Awards.
At the same time, much of the old guard was either absent or went home emptyhanded. Tom Cruise, whose “Top Gun: Maverick” was nominated for best picture, was a no show. So was James Cameron, whose “Avatar: The Way of Water” wasn’t considered a real challenger. Twenty-five years ago, it was Cameron who was “king of the world” at the Oscars, with “Titanic.”
“Maverick” won just for sound, “Avatar” for effects. The puny results for two films that have together collected nearly $4 billion in box office might have taken some viewers out of the broadcast. Academy voters signaled early in the ceremony that blockbusters weren’t on the menu, picking Curtis for supporting actress over Angela Bassett (“Black Panther: Wakanda Forever”), who would have been the first Marvel performer to win an Oscar.
Steven Spielberg and “The Fabelmans” was also entirely shutout. Though nominated for seven awards, his most autobiographical film and the one he campaigned hardest for, didn’t win anything. Best director went to the Daniels, who at 35, are the second-youngest winners ever.
The Oscars, more than ever, belong to underdogs. And the biggest loser might be Oscar bait.
Certainly, many of the winners were conventional academy picks. Best actor winner Brendan Fraser’s prosthetic-aided comeback performance in “The Whale” ticked many of the standard boxes. And it would be unfair to label Spielberg thoughtful memory piece — which somehow lost the “mom” narrative to the Daniels’ film — as awards-driven.
But Sunday’s Oscars suggested Hollywood — at least for the time being — is looking for Oscar movies that don’t seem too much like Oscar movies. Some of that could be attributed to the changed makeup of the academy, which has diversified and now numbers more than 10,000. That includes far more international voters, a subtle sea change that likely helped push the German-language WWI saga “All Quiet on the Western Front” to four Oscars and “Naatu Naatu” of the Indian sensation “RRR” to best song.
But even the acting winners, while Hollywood veterans, were all first timers. The wins for Yeoh, Quan and Fraser may have all partly been to redress past wrongs to them by the industry. Fraser had been largely forgotten, and a victim of alleged abuse by a prominent Hollywood Foreign Press Association member. Yeoh, a massive star in Hong Kong, had found herself pigeonholed in Hollywood. Quan, an indelible face of the 1980s, had given up acting after years of struggle to find work.
The Oscar telecast, emceed by Jimmy Kimmel, was fairly traditional, as the academy looked to quell the drama of last year’s show. So it would be easy to miss that the ground underneath the Academy Awards is shifting — and not just the carpet formerly colored red.
But it’s more than a quirky blip when a couple of idiosyncratic, sensitive guys with an absurdist sense of humor win best picture for their only feature film beside the farting corpse one. “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” the Daniels’ second film after 2016’s “Swiss Army Man,” may have struck a chord because of how it channels our dizzying digital overload into multiple dimensions.
“The world is changing rapidly and I fear our stories are not keeping that pace,” Kwan said on the Dolby Theatre stage, referring to the speed of the internet versus the slow-moving apparatus of cinema.
The Oscars tend to seesaw between trends. The much-debated 2018 winner “Green Book” followed the landmark win for “Moonlight” the year prior. Barry Jenkins' film was the first A24 best-picture winner, and now “Everything Everywhere All at Once” — A24's biggest box-office hit with $107.4 million in box office — is the specialty label's second. A24 swept all of the top awards Sunday, a first for any studio in Oscar history.
Backstage at the Oscars, Kwan told reporters that their “shotgun blast of joy and absurdity and creativity” ultimately comes out of his own navigation through dark times and depression.
“And I really hope that the next generation can watch a movie like ours and be just, like, oh, there’s another way to look at the bleakness and another way to kind of face it head on,” said Kwan.
The victory for “Everything Everywhere All at Once” came as Hollywood and the Oscars continue to find their footing after several years of pandemic and the scandal of last year's broadcast. While the industry has tried to revive moviegoing, originality has been in short supply in theaters. On Oscar weekend at the box office, a “VI” defeated a “III.”
But “Everything Everywhere All at Once," a mad rush of originality with “Raccacoonie” strapped to its head, is surely beloved for daring to be different. And at the Oscars, its win might not be “not normal,” as Kwan said, after all. It might be the new normal.
Follow AP Film Writer Jake Coyle on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/jakecoyleAP